Visitors to Hawaii planning activities while here could certainly be forgiven for overlooking a night taking in some stand-up comedy. After all, it’s our pristine beaches, crystal clear waters, breathtaking scenery, and (mostly) perfect weather that get top billing. And why not? Hawaii is among the most beautiful places in all the world. But beyond that successful postcard trope is a rich arts and culture community of the quality you could expect to find in any continental metropolis.
Just a few years ago, comedy shows were relatively few and far between in Honolulu, with occasional nationally known comics making the trip and a small handful of comedy clubs like Sharkey’s in Waikiki. But stand-up is enjoying a resurgence with the support of smaller clubs, particularly in the arts districts of Chinatown and Kakaako, which are willing to take a chance on a comedy. Hawaii’s comedians are delivering. So are residents and visitors alike, filling these rooms and sharing the laughs on nights when a crowd might otherwise be tough to come by.
Larger Honolulu venues like Station Bar, Bar Seven, and Crossroads at Hawaiian Brian’s, which mainly feature national music acts and the run the spectrum from hip-hip to cow-punk, have also embraced stand-up with frequent showcase nights, marquee names and the best in local stand-up.
Those local comedians have been able to move away from familiar, pidgin-heavy “local humor” and reach audiences that might not know what it’s like to battle rush hour traffic on H-1 Freeway on a Friday afternoon. And the number of regular comedy performances seems to indicate that Hawaii’s comics are listening to and learning from one another to the artistic betterment of all. (But hey, stand-up is a tough gig, and nobody out there is going to love all of the jokes.)
Open mic nights are enjoying a surge in popularity, as well. This is probably stand-up at its most unpredictable. Usually hosted by established local comics, first-timers take the stage to try material they’ve been working on, maybe for months, or maybe just since they walked in the door. It can be glorious. It can be gut-wrenching. That’s the name of the game, though, and part of the excitement is not knowing what will happen.
Perhaps the most compelling evidence of comedy’s resurgence in Hawaii isn’t taking place in Honolulu’s arts districts, however, but on Maui. The inaugural Maui Comedy Festival is taking place in Lahaina over Halloween weekend this year, promising dozens of nationally and internationally performing comics from October 30 to November 2. Billed as “the biggest comedy event Hawaii has ever seen,” headliners include veteran comics who have broken through into film and television in addition to their already successful stand-up careers, like Paul Provenza, Greg Proops, and Aisha Tyler. The sheer number of comics coming to Hawaii to perform at the festival and Hawaii’s concert venues shows us nowadays, the road to stand-up stardom leads through the islands, too.